Playing through the main storyline of Megadimension Neptunia VII, you'd perhaps be forgiven for thinking of the series' first PlayStation 4 instalment as three different games entirely. Packaged as a trio of story arcs tied together by an overarching plot, you fight across alternate dimensions to save the fate of Gamindustri using the powers of the protagonist Neptune and the other CPUs that live there.
Delving straight in, there's a lot of background on what each character does and what their strengths and weaknesses are, but it's not presented in an obvious tutorial-like way. Instead, the characters just share information that they're already privy to, and these light-hearted asides make it feel like you're in on something. The cast frequently drop casual explanations about how a theme or enemy may have featured in a previous entry in the series, giving a brief overview of the franchise's history in a fun way. In turn, this makes it pretty accessible to newbies.
The characters themselves are cute, colourful, and surprisingly funny, and they already have established relationships with each other, which paves the way for some witty and humorous 'banter'. Not only this, but you can feel some real affection between party members, which helps build empathy as the peril builds. Couple this with a good dose of subtle adult humour, and there are a lot of genuinely funny jokes and amusing scenarios lumped in with the more serious moments. The funniest part, though, as fans will know, is that the whole game is littered with meta references and jokes about the history of gaming culture and the current state of the game industry.
However, perhaps somewhat predictably, Megadimension Neptunia VII has no problem in dishing out the fan service for its cute female cast. In fact, it takes hardly any time at all for the three main characters of the first story arc to shed their clothes and hop into a shared bath for pretty much no reason. For everything good that the game throws at you, it's littered with moments like this, prompting you to question proceedings a little harder – especially given the child-like nature of the majority of the girls.
To progress the actual plot, there's a lot of "visit point X to collect item Y or investigate area Z" type quests, especially early on in the story, making the whole thing feel quite linear and confined. It's not really until the second plot arc that it starts to feel like you have any choice in how you spend your time, with the introduction of side quests and various other dynamics, such as investment opportunities.
Moving onto the battle system, bosses generally pose no threat and are easily defeated with the application of some basic tactics, but the generic grunts in dungeons get noticeably more difficult to defeat as the game progresses, and this is due mostly to the large quantity of the blighters that you can encounter in one sitting. Thankfully, such enemies can be easily avoided while travelling through the dungeons once a weakness has been identified, making it possible to just get around a troublesome type of enemy altogether. What's more, levelling up happens pretty quickly, so there's not much need for grinding.
There's very little opportunity to make your party's equipment stronger, however, and the shop offers little in the way of upgrades or new weapons until much later in the game. This is frustrating at times, but it does force you to explore all of the mechanics in the battle system. It's fairly easy to get to grips with – a standard turn-based affair with different moves assigned to each button, while special attacks use up SP, which can deplete very rapidly through regular use.
Graphically, Megadimension Neptunia VII isn't that impressive. Cutscenes are where the majority of the plot unfolds and are pretty well done, but given the fact that they're mostly static, they have no excuse not to be. Meanwhile, delving into the dungeon crawling aspect of the release, the visuals are rather basic and offer nothing new or exciting to cast your eyes on. The separate dungeons all blend into one another, and after a while, even the enemies start to look the same.
Megadimension Neptunia VII stumbles into the same traps that many of its peers have fallen into before, serving up lazy quests and a questionable amount of fan service. Fortunately, it makes up for these shortcomings with boundless energy and endearing characters who provide an enjoyable and light-hearted trip through alternate dimensions. While the game may have benefitted from enhancing some of its mechanics, it's by no means a bad RPG experience – just one that we feel like we've had many times before.